PLATTSBURGH Rick Stoddards life was changed forever when Marie, his wife of 25 years, died of lung cancer. Though it will be eight years this January since he lost her, her memory is fresh in his mind as he speaks to thousands each week about the perils of smoking. Mr. Stoddard recently spent time bringing what he passionately describes as Maries story to students across the North Country. Among his stops was Seton Catholic Central High School, where he spoke to hundreds of students and faculty, detailing Maries life as a smoker and how it ultimately led to her death. I talk very openly about my wifes death, the effect it had on our family, and I talk about the tobacco industry and how they continue to target kids to be smokers, Mr. Stoddard said prior to giving his presentation Nov. 9. Marie was always a very kind, caring, giving person. So really, this just goes along with who she was. This is her story. Im just the messenger. During his message to the student body, Mr. Stoddard spoke at great length of the pain his wife endured after being diagnosed with lung cancer in August 1999. His wife had smoked for several years, unaware of the effect it was having on her lungs, he said. It was their son, Justin, who came home one day to find his mother unconscious on the floor. Mrs. Stoddard was rushed to the hospital where doctors gave her the fatal diagnosis, learning the disease had spread to her liver and her brain. She was given six months to live. The months to follow would involve multiple doctors appointments and emergency room visits due to seizures she had from the cancer affecting her brain. As he chronicled the weeks leading up to his wifes death, Mr. Stoddard saw the solemn looks on the faces of the students, who listened intently to what he had to say. As he brought out a multiple-page list of the ingredients found in cigarettes, which range from chocolate used not for flavor, but as a bronchial dialator to allow more nicotine to enter a smokers system to ammonia and urea, the jaws of students seemed to drop as quickly as the list as it hit the gymnasium floor. The stop was one of many he makes throughout his 200 days a year on the road, driving around in his pickup truck traveling state to state. The hours are long and the traveling is exhausting, but its been that way for the past seven years when Mr. Stoddard realized he needed to tell his wifes story so others would learn from her mistake. It had been a month since he had been back to his Massachusetts home when he spoke at Seton Catholic, one of his last stops on the North Country circuit. After that, it was a weekend with his family and back on the road. When asked what has kept him motivated all this time, Mr. Stoddard will tell you simply, Its the kids. They amaze me, said Mr. Stoddard. If you read some of the letters on my Web site, that pretty much explains why I do what I do. In one of the postings on Mr. Stoddards Web site, www.rickstoddard.com, a student named Kaitlin wrote of the importance of Mr. Stoddards visit. You came to our school (Seton Catholic) the other day and I just wanted to let you know you were an inspiration for me. I now go up to everyone I see with a cigarette and brief them with some of the information you gave me. I know your road has not been an easy one but as you were speaking the other day I knew that this is what God must have planned for you. He wants you to stop this from happening to others. You are here to change the world, for this I truly you believe you are a hero! Thank you so much for changing our lives! You will forever be in our thoughts and prayers. Another posting from a student named Rachel at Plattsburgh High School gave frightening insight as to how early smoking can become part of a childs life. I've been smoking since I was in about 7th grade, and to know now, at the age that I started that it really is going to kill me. You made such an impact on what I thought that I'm trying to quit now. My father smokes now and he's already had three heart attacks and I need him here with me. I'm not ready to let him go, better yet, let myself go. My teacher told my class, I'm not going to tell you I don't care if you smoke because I do. You guys are all young, but Im not going to hate you if you smoke ... just always remember I hate the smoking NOT the smoker. And that really touched me. In her posting, Rachel also wrote how she really thought about how both her grandfathers died this summer from lung cancer. Sarah, another Plattsburgh High School student said she also realized what smoking can do, based off Mr. Stoddards eye-opening speech. My mom and dad both smoke, she wrote. I tell them every time they light a cigarette how much harm they are doing to me, and to themselves but they just dont listen. Like you said, they think that it wont happen to them ... they are so wrong ... I want to see my family when Im older, and I dont want to put them though any pain, so Im never going to smoke, and I hope others will do the same. Message after message on Mr. Stoddards Web site speaks of the profound impact his words have had on those who have heard them, far exceeding Mr. Stoddards goal of reaching just one person at every speaking engagement he has. If I can impact one persons life every day, then Im happy, said Mr. Stoddard. If I can get to one person and change their life and motivate them to make a good change or get them to spread the message, its totally worth it. We really need a generation of nonsmokers. Thats the only way its ever going to end, Mr. Stoddard added. Were losing 1,200 people a day [in the United States] to this. If you look at it globally, its five million people a year. Thats unacceptable. His message resonates so well with [the students], said Dana Isabella, project coordinator for Reality Check of Clinton and Essex County, the organization which facilitated Mr. Stoddards visit. We had Rick come out in May for three days after I heard from other county coordinators that his program matched very well with what we do. He just knocked our socks off. You cant walk away from this not feeling like you want to do something, Ms. Isabella added. For more information about Rick Stoddard, visit his Web site,
, or contact Reality Check of Clinton and Essex Counties at 561-8480.